Russia 66, Croatia 64
TORONTO (AP) _ Russia ruined the gold-medal matchup everyone had anticipated with a 66-64 victory over Croatia on Saturday night in the semifinals of the World Championship of Basketball.
Russia (6-1) will meet the United States, a team it lost to 111-94 on Friday night, for the gold medal on Sunday. Croatia (6-1), the team that had been considered as sure a lock for the silver as Dream Team II was for the gold, will play Greece for the bronze medal.
″We are still celebrating this victory,″ said first-year Russia coach Sergei Belov, the first international player elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame. ″We will try to get ready for the Dream Team by the time the game starts.″
The victory was even more impressive because Russia’s best big man, Andrei Fetisov, a second-round pick in the recent NBA draft, injured his right ankle 3 1/2 minutes into the game and never returned.
″Our team doctor is fantastic and Andrei is young, but we will have to wait until noontime tomorrow to get a clearer picture,″ Belov said, adding Fetisov originally hurt the ankle against the United States.
Russia led 42-28 with 13:24 to play when Croatia came back, not led by its NBA stars Toni Kukoc of the Chicago Bulls and Dino Radja of the Boston Celtics, but rather by guard Arijan Komazec. He scored eight points in one minute to get Croatia within 48-45 and Radja tipped in a missed free throw with 7:25 to play to make it 48-47.
Veteran guard Sergei Bazarevich, a member of the gold-medal Soviet team in 1988 and the Unified Team in 1992 and the only player on Russia who had been in a World Championship, worked the spread offense to perfection in the final minutes scoring seven points as Russia never lost the lead.
Croatia drew within 60-59 with 3:03 left, but Sergei Babkov hit a tough short jumper 16 seconds later. Russia made four of six free throws in the final two minutes as Croatia missed six of its last eight shots and a 3- pointer by Komazec at the buzzer accounted for the final margin.
″I am happiest because we showed guts when Croatia closed the gap,″ Bazarevich said. ″We could’ve panicked, but we didn’t.″
When the game ended the Russian players and coaches celebrated on the court as if they had won the gold rather than a chance to play for it. The Croatian players left the court, seemingly stunned they would not get a chance to play the United States.
″It was expected that Croatia would be in the final, but it is sports and sometimes exciting things happen,″ Belov said.
Croatia coach Guiseppe Gierga wasn’t as shocked as most people by the outcome.
″It is not such a big upset,″ he said. ″They beat us even worse than today in the European championships last year. We lost today, but I don’t think it was because we were tired. We wanted to win a silver medal. Who wouldn’t want to play the U.S.?″
Bazarevich also said he didn’t understand why Croatia was such a favorite to win the silver medal.
″They were deemed to be the favorite without having any basis for it,″ he said.
Russia beat Croatia, playing without Kukoc, in the semifinals of the European championships.
Bazarevich finished with 16 points, while Babkov had 13 for Russia, which was just 1-for-12 from 3-point range.
Komazec led Croatia with 22 points, while Radja had 16 points and 14 rebounds, but was just 4-for-16 from the field. Kukoc finished with five points and was 2-for-8 from the field with two assists, his lowest total of the tournament.